This weekend, civil rights leaders plan to gather at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the site where 600 marchers tried to cross 47 years ago this month on their way to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery to protest for Black voting rights.
On March 7, 1965, Alabama's segregationist Gov. George Wallace dispatched his state troopers to stop a nonviolent civil rights march from proceeding. The police advanced on the marchers, pulled out their weapons and began beating the peaceful protesters in a brutal, televised melee that became known as "Bloody Sunday." The events of that march eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
All these years later, even after we've elected our first Black president, many of us are still being reminded that our voting rights are not entirely secure. Last fall, Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old Black woman who has voted in all but one election since women were allowed to vote, was denied the right to vote in Tennessee.
Cooper produced a rent receipt, a copy of her lease, her birth certificate and her existing voter registration card, but all that was not enough to satisfy the eligibility requirements under a strict new voter identification law passed last year in Tennessee.
In the past year, 15 states have enacted new restrictions, which "could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012," according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Republicans argue the new rules are needed to stop voter fraud, but there's not a shred of evidence that widespread voter fraud has been occurring. In fact, the Brennan Center analyzed data from several elections and found the voter fraud rate as low as 0.00004%. You're just as likely to be struck and killed by lightning as to encounter actual voter fraud.
And in a country where kids under 21 easily find fake IDs, how exactly is a photo ID requirement supposed to stop voter fraud anyway? Other new state laws reduce the number of days for early voting, make it harder for voters to change their addresses, and impose new burdens on community organizers doing voter registration drives. How exactly is that supposed to stop voter fraud? Maybe that's why the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and Florida PIRG have filed suit to block the new voter suppression law in Florida.
It's no coincidence that the states that have already cut back on voting rights account for 171 electoral votes in 2012 — 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency, according to the Brennan Center.
When George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 but managed to squeak out a "victory" by 537 votes in a state where his brother was governor thanks to a ruling by Supreme Court members appointed by his father, Republicans had little interest in electoral reform back then. And when Republican Party officials miscounted the votes in Iowa and Maine during the current GOP primary season this year, there wasn't a lot of movement on voter fraud. Similarly, when voting activists raised concerns about electronic voting without paper records, there wasn't much of an outcry about voter fraud from the GOP.
Oh, but now that Barack Obama is president, we suddenly have a voting crisis that requires Republican-controlled state legislatures to protect the integrity of the election process from the specter of fraud.
Let's be honest. These new laws are designed to chill turnout among Democratic voters. "More than 21 million citizens — 11 percent of the population — do not have government ID cards," according to the New York Times. "Many of them are poor, or elderly, or Black and Hispanic and could have a hard time navigating the bureaucracy to get a card," the Times notes. And many of these groups just happen to vote Democratic.
What's going on here is a brazen and nakedly partisan attempt to suppress voter turnout. Shockingly, one Florida Republican lawmaker even admitted the efforts were designed to discourage anyone who he deems not to be "an informed voter.”
State Sen. Mike Bennett, a Republican from Bradenton, put it bluntly: "Do you read the stories about the people in Africa? The people in the desert, who literally walk two and three hundred miles so they can have the opportunity to do what we do, and we want to make it more convenient? How much more convenient do you want to make it?" he said. Instead of making it too easy, Bennett says, "I want ‘em to fight for it. I want ‘em to know what it’s like. I want them to go down there, and have to walk across town to go over and vote.”
This is the last gasp of a pathetic political party desperately clinging onto power while the world is changing and leaving them behind. And so the party that lost the Latino vote and the youth vote by a 2-1 margin in the last presidential election, and has written off the Black vote altogether, has had to invent the artifice of voter fraud to stop all these "new people" from voting.
George Wallace would be very proud of them.
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